Lions

Eric Thomas: Leave Gunther Cunningham Alone!

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DENVER - AUGUST 21:  Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham of the Detroit Lions works from the bench against the Denver Broncos during preseason NFL action at INVESCO Field at Mile High on August 21, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Lions defeated the Broncos 25-20.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

DENVER – AUGUST 21: Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham of the Detroit Lions works from the bench against the Denver Broncos during preseason NFL action at INVESCO Field at Mile High on August 21, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Lions defeated the Broncos 25-20. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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Some Lions fans have picked their target and it’s defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. The reason is certainly valid, the Lions defense (and I really still can’t believe this stat) actually gave up more yards than any other defense in the history of the NFL playoffs. That’s a rough sash to put on. It looks especially dubious when you set it on the shelf next to Matt Flynn’s record-breaking clinic at Lambeau field last week.

I understand where Lions fans are coming from when they tape Gunny’s picture to a dart board in their man cave, and waste four pieces of cardboard trying to spell “Cunningham” right. But riding the defensive coach out of town on a rail does you absolutely no favors. The Lions spent roughly two decades engaged in that same kind of histrionic behavior and it got them nowhere.

Let’s not forget, the Lions have not won a playoff game since 1991 and Matt Millen joined the team in 2000. This pile has stunk a lot longer than when ol’ Mr. Moustache showed up. I submit that part of the reason (a large part) is the Lions affinity for kicking coaches to the curb.

In the Wayne Fontes era, Lions fans always ended the season by screaming at management and demanding a pound of flesh for this injustice. Fontes firing his assistant coaches became an annual ceremony in the Motor City. Of course it never helped, actually making the team worse every year and providing Fontes a convenient scapegoat for all his failings.

The Millen era was the worst. Yes, the head coach position spun like a pinwheel, but the assistants were a bit like Joe Louis’ “Bum of the Month” club. The defensive coordinators during the Millen era were: Joe Barry, Donnie Henderson, Dick Jauron (actually was the head coach for a minute, remember?), Kurt Schottenheimer, and Vince Tobin.

There are plenty of reasons for Lions fans to hate Bobby Ross, but he did make the playoffs consistently, even after Barry bailed. He had the same defensive coach, Larry Peccatillo, the entire time he was here. During that time, the defense of the team was its unquestioned strength. There are numerous instances where coaching continuity leads to championships (Steelers) and when constant turnover makes you feckless and weak (Redskins, Vikings, Rams).

Coaches coach, and players play. Its cliché, but it’s true. If you are going to excoriate Gunther for the 600+ yards of offense, you should also give him credit for holding the Saints to 10 points in the first half. Cunningham did not drop any interceptions or miss assignments. That was on the professional football players who are collecting a much larger check than their defensive coach.

I blame the Lions defense, of course, but when I say that, I blame the players not the scheme. I don’t care if he is Gadalf the Gray, he cannot make a suspect secondary into Pro Bowlers out of scheme. Gunny certainly turned in an impressive season with the guys he was handed.

We just had a 10 win season. Relax. Let the coaching carousel come to an end. Let’s keep our guys.

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